After the Paris climate deal

  • December 19, 2015

2015-12-19, John Narayan Parajuli

Understanding what happened in Paris on December 11, 2015 isn’t easy. While it is being hailed as a historic climate deal, the reality is that the agreement is largely non-binding and relies heavily on voluntary actions of member states—postponing any serious action, both on mitigation and adaption, until 2020. The success of the agreement rests on several assumptions coming true. First, it assumes that all member states will act in good faith. Second, it assumes that rapid technological development will make clean and renewable energy more economically viable. Third, it takes for granted the science behind, or the lack thereof, the human ability to limit with precision the temperature rise to under 2C. The emphasis of the agreement seems to be on the biggest polluters and developed countries investing in renewable technology as a way to drastically cut their reliance on fossil fuel and subsequently cutting emissions level. So in essence the mitigation part is contingent upon rapid advances in technology.  Well I don’t doubt that renewable technology can rapidly make that leap and become economically sustainable. The question is of political sustainability, especially in countries like the United States and India. This proposition naively assumes that the fossil fuel industry will cooperate and will not lobby hard to protect its billions of dollars worth of investments.

Big power politics aside, where does Nepal come into the picture? Nepal’s vulnerability to climate change has been widely documented. There are already visible impacts of climate change in Nepal: the glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate; there is increased risks of floods caused by glacial lake outbursts and other natural hazards in the mountains; the agriculture sector is already under strain due to erratic rainfall and longer dry spells; and there is an increased frequency and intensity of disasters including floods, droughts and landslides occurring in the country. Various research works have also shown the shift in tree-line vegetation in mountainous parts of the Manaslu region.

Even if the countries were able to limit the temperature rise to under 2C by drastically cutting carbon emissions—thanks to the Paris climate agreement—it won’t necessarily be a safe limit for Nepal and other low-lying and mountainous countries. The damage will already have been done. Leveraging the adaptation fund So the best hope for countries like Nepal is to leverage the deal and the existing commitment of developed countries to provide US$100 billion annually for adaptation by 2020, for jump-starting technological development and getting the needed investment to expedite clean and renewable energy and infrastructure projects. The Paris agreement clearly stresses on the need for accelerating and enabling innovation as an effective, long-term response to climate change

.  “Such effort shall be, as appropriate, supported, including by the Technology Mechanism and, through financial means, by the Financial Mechanism of the Convention, for collaborative approaches to research and development, and facilitating access to technology, in particular for early stages of the technology cycle, to developing country Parties,” the agreement states. It also calls on the Green Climate Fund to expedite support for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and developing countries—both in formulating and implementing national adaptation plans. National contributions  Before the Paris convention, parties had been asked to submit their national plan of action or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). INDCs are voluntary actions that each country proposes to undertake, both as mitigation and an adaptive measure. Especially for LDCs, INDCs could become a national strategy and action plan to not just to adapt but also to develop low carbon-based economies.

While Nepal failed to submit its INDC in time, a draft proposal that was circulated has set ambitious goals, including fulfilling 100 percent of national electricity demand through hydropower and renewable sources by 2030 and developing a fully carbon neutral economy by 2050. A low carbon or carbon neutral economy proposition would entail a whole range of development actions—ranging from electric mass transit, solar street lighting, and biogas plants for cooking, among other things. Nepal is well-positioned to take advantage of the funds available for low carbon development—given the potential for hydro power and other renewable energy-based development.  The Green Climate Fund (GCF) has a starting capital of US$10 billion and much of the annual $100 billion promised by developed countries is expected to flow through GCF. The fund has already started investing in projects.

In November it approved a $168 million climate resilience project for Zambia and countries like Nepal can benefit from both the GCF and Least Developed Countries Fund to access funding for their plans to usher in a low carbon economy. And lobbying for these accessing adaptation funds should be done both on a bilateral and multilateral levels. Nepal is already part of Vulnerable Twenty Group (V20), a group of 20 most vulnerable countries from climate change, formed earlier this year. This and other forums need to be used effectively. With a right pitch accompanied by sustained and effective climate diplomacy, Nepal can turn its vulnerability into an opportunity to access increased finance for its development needs.